the functional role of food

This frustrates me:
Parents are told that their kids need to eat in order not to die, in order to preserve their bones, and to prevent medical complications. We are rarely told that the food repairs the brain and treats the eating disorder THOUGHTS.

More often, parents get the impression that weight gain can only make the patient feel worse - after all the patient keeps telling us they feel fat. Seeing the distress that eating causes, parents are often the first to agree to lower calorie levels and minimum target weights. After all, why push it? Food is only a symptom, right? At least she's eating.

No: Food is medicine. Eating disorder thoughts and perceptions fade with FULL weight restoration. The body generally (not always) stops feeling larger than it is when it is reliably fed and stabilized. The sense of social isolation, the obsessive food rituals, the need to control food intake: these all abate if not go away as the brain heals - especially if done as soon as possible after diagnosis.

Is it enough? For many it is. Others need more help. But is it optional? No.

Parents need to know that full weight restoration and full nutrition do feel far worse than starving and purging FOR A WHILE. Think of it as the "bends" that divers experience when they come up too fast. But like undersea divers, they have to come up. Staying down there is not an option. Staying a quarter inch below the surface may be better than three feet down but it ain't living. And it isn't recovering, either.

And if your child's treatment team hasn't told you that, you need to seek medically based clinicians who will.


  1. Amen to everything above.

    As a recovered anorexic (for five years now!) I can say that I have *ONLY* ever had eating disordered thoughts when I am *NOT EATING*, and once I realised this (note that I say "I," not my medical team, unfortunately - who battered my will to live by telling me "you will have to fight these thoughts every single day for the rest of your life), things were much easier to handle. Once I could understand that "I'm not thinking these things because I'm fat, I'm thinking these things because I'm depriving my brain and it's going crazy," it sort of helped me turn a corner into recovery.

    Even now, I only get the disordered thoughts back when I'm super stressed, because when I'm super stressed, I have a tendency to eat less.

    So... good on you, hope you keep spreading this message :-)

  2. Sometimes I wonder why this common sense approach is so hard to get some folks to understand. Food? Yes food. We give what was taken away, we refill with the fuel of life. Food.
    I feel I've been screaming it this past weekend. Food...the magic cure...the one sure way to give your kid or loved one the best darn chance.
    I know there may be more to it but it's one sure thing we parents need to trust. That we run on nutrients not air and water alone.
    Sylvia...Keep on eating! You deserve to be well.

  3. I join Mary in celebrating your recovery, Sylvia!

  4. I struggle mightily with the last part of your post, Laura: despite being weight restored and eating a variety of foods, I still find myself struggling with ED thoughts a lot. And I don't know what to do about that. I know that not eating just makes them worse, but sometimes I feel at a loss.

  5. Carrie, I hate that you continue to be plagued by ED's thoughts. I hate ED. I hate ED.

    And I hate that what I said would add to any misery.

    I try to be very careful to say that full nutritional rehab helps, abates, lessens - but not cures the ED thoughts. And that the longer the person is marinated in malnutrition and those thoughts the more they take hold and calcify. I'm trying to get parents (and the rest of the ED world) to stop the illness and prevent the illness from getting its talons in as early as possible. I can see how genuinely ANNOYING my yammering about this could be to someone working hard against the ED both foodwise AND cognitively.

    You suffered from ED's influence a long time, and pretty deeply, right? That's a lot of "fear learning" that I would think would need to be unlearned and replaced with other, less urgent, learning. I'm thinking that for that reason, learning to be normal has got to be a bigger challenge than learning not to be, really.


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